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Birthing Centers Blossom

Joe Cantlupe, for HealthLeaders Media, March 13, 2012
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Ascension Health, which has nearly 18,000 beds across 70 hospitals in 21 states, is among the hospital systems refining their clinical programs to improve obstetrics patient care through programs aimed at reducing infection rates and medical errors, and thwarting potential malpractice lawsuits.

Ascension Health provides obstetrical services for more than 73,000 deliveries each year. In 2010, the health system reported neonatal mortality rates at 0.83 per 1,000 live births—82% lower than the estimated national rate of 4.5. The corresponding birth trauma rate was 0.7 per 1,000 live births—62% lower than the estimated national rate of 1.84, according to the hospital's reports to AHRQ.

 "Our priority is patient safety and patient-centered approaches to foster the added benefits of removing waste and needless additional cost in healthcare. And the better we get, the more we improve care," Hendrich says.

"In a community hospital, one of the ways we survive is bringing a strong foundation for a family and establishing a relationship, and we do that with the birthing center," says Sheri Milone, CEO at the 120-staffed-bed Lovelace Women's Hospital in Albuquerque, NM. Hospitals that don't invest in birthing centers could face the possibility of losing women consumers "at a child bearing age, and many hospitals are struggling to get those consumers back."

Success key No. 1: Beating the competition

Concord, MA–based Emerson Hospital's birthing center was made to ensure a welcoming environment for families and their newest arrival. The 179-bed facility's birthing center includes rooms with Internet access and beds for spouses, who can stay in the hospital and telecommute to work from a comfy, cozy setting.

The hospital's amenities are designed to attract families and friends and represent the patient-centered focus of the birthing center. The  result is overwhelming patient satisfaction at more than 95%, says Joyce Welsh, RN, MSM, vice president of patient care and chief nursing officer at the hospital.

There were 2,000 births reported at the hospital's birthing center in 2010 and 2,100 in 2011, a 5% increase, according to Welsh.

The birthing center provides one-on-one nursing care, high-risk pregnancy services, and a special care nursery for babies who need extra medical attention. Among other things, it offers lactation consultants, nursing educators, and a benefit known as boarder status, allowing discharged mothers who have babies in special care to remain in their rooms as long as space allows.

The hospital also has developed an online education program for expectant parents and families, Welsh says.

By having such amenities, "patients have really loved their experience, and we have been able to measure that in terms of very high patient satisfaction," says Jeff Reilly, MD, head of the hospital's pediatric unit. "People are spreading the word."

Hospitals such as Emerson are making the improvements not only for their local demographics and the goal of targeting an increased patient population, but also with an eye on something else: the competition.

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